Let Brits lead now, fans want Woods-Mickelson on final day


POSTED: Saturday, April 10, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga. » There was a convergence of galleries between the seventh and 17th fairways that all hope is a portent of things to come.

Tiger Woods was walking up the 17th after hitting a difficult second shot from the rough under a couple of pine trees to within 14 feet of the cup at the same time Phil Mickelson was eyeing a 7-footer for birdie on the green less than 50 yards away.

The traffic jam was like the Moanalua meeting H-1 at 8 a.m., with people yelling out, “;Go Phil!”; one moment and “;Get 'em, Tiger!”; the next. If the talented twosome were aware of this near-miss, they didn't show it. There was too much between them to reach out and shake hands.

Granted, at the end of round two, two lightfoot lads from England are tied atop the Masters leaderboard in Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, but it's the American matchup between Mickelson and Woods that folks are craving on this side of the pond.

Woods finished his 2-under 70 round more than 2 hours ahead of Mickelson, who still had the back nine in front of him as Woods made his way to the media room to explain how yesterday's 18 was so much better than Thursday's opening 68.

The roars that greeted the patrons at practically every turn on Thursday were more subdued yesterday as the fathers of the exclusive Masters club tightened things down after two members of the Champions Tour finished 1-2 over the opening 18 holes.

Woods expected this, said as much after his first 36 in five months were in the books. For the record, he's tied for third with playing partner K.J. Choi, Ricky Barnes, Anthony Kim and Mickelson at 6-under 138, only two shots off the pace of the Brits at 8-under 136 on a perfect day at Augusta.

Mickelson made the turn at 4 under for the tournament and eventually caught Woods on the friendly back nine with birdies at Nos. 13 and 17 to keep the possibility of a Sunday showdown alive. Phil the Thrill came close to being Woods' dancing with the stars partner at the last, but a 50-foot birdie try rammed hard into the cup, only to pop out and roll a couple of feet away.

This was fitting. We don't want them playing together today. We want them in the last twosome tomorrow with the coveted green jacket on the line. As it stands, past Sony Open in Hawaii winner Choi and Woods will be together again, the next-to-last group in front of pretenders Westwood and Poulter. Barns and Kim will be in front of Woods and Choi, and they'll be following Mickelson and PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang.

Someone among those final four pairings will likely be fitted with the green jacket tomorrow. Woods put himself in that position by carding three birdies — all on par 5s — and a lone bogey at the difficult par-3 fourth — to continue his remarkable run considering his self-imposed exile to deal with well-documented dalliances off the course.

On it, he seems as comfortable as before.

“;I felt more comfortable because I was hitting the ball better and I was putting better, even though I didn't shoot as low a score,”; Woods said. “;I think that's a factor of the conditions. I feel like I had more control of the golf ball today from tee to green and I hit putts right on my lines. That's something I wasn't doing Thursday.”;

As for Mickelson, well, he missed that little birdie putt at seven, as did Woods at 17. Mickelson made the turn at 1 over for his round, but came home in 2 under to draw even with Woods to put himself in position to win his second green jacket.

A lot has been made this week of the international influence. There are four foreigners among the top 11, including good friends Poulter and Westwood. Poulter and Chad Campbell, who just made the cut at 3-over 147, had the best rounds at 68. Westwood was third at 69. Those were the only rounds in the 60s after 16 on Thursday.

Will it be Woods or Mickelson tomorrow? How about Westwood or Poulter, two of the best the European Tour has to offer? And don't forget about young gun Kim, or even Yang, who stared down Woods to win last year's PGA Championship. It's the kind of high drama everyone expected, with Woods front and center on golf's most famous stage.


Sports editor Paul Arnett covers golf for the Star-Bulletin. Watch for his reports from the Masters throughout the week.